All About Rheumatoid Arthritis

arthritisMany rheumatoid arthritis sufferers benefit from buchu products, including buchu tea, buchu capsules and topically applied buchu gel. This is because buchu has proven anti-inflammatory properties.


Reducing or preventing inflammation is key to managing rheumatoid arthritis because it’s primarily swelling that’s responsible for the joint pain associated with the disease. Preventing inflammation may also slow the progression of the arthritis by helping prevent joint damage.


Here we take an in-depth look at rheumatoid arthritis – what causes it, its symptoms and how it can be treated.


What is rheumatoid arthritis?

All types of arthritis – of which there are more than a hundred – involve inflammation, especially around the joints. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the swelling typically occurs symmetrically, in joints on both sides of the body. For example, it may affect the same fingers on both hands. It also commonly affects both wrists, knees or elbows.


Although rheumatoid arthritis is most often associated with the joints, it may also affect other parts of the body, including the eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves and skin.


People of all ages may suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, but it most commonly starts in middle age. It affects about twice as many women as men.


What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

The answer is that nobody really knows. What we do know is that rheumatoid arthritis involves an abnormal immune system response. Something triggers the immune system to attack the capsule surrounding the joints, known as the synovia.


The immune system’s attack results in swelling and excess fluid in the synovium, as well as a build-up of fibrous tissue, or thickening, in the synovium. This puts pressure on the joint, weakening the ligaments and tendons that hold it together. Eventually, the joint loses its alignment and both joint cartilage and bone may be destroyed.


Scientists aren’t clear about what causes a person’s immune system to turn against their joints. One theory is that a specific virus or bacterial agent may trigger the response. Swelling is a normal immune system response to infection. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, however, the immune system’s response becomes established and continues once the virus or bacteria is no longer present.


Genetics play a significant role in rheumatoid arthritis. If your parents suffered from the condition, it’s almost twice as likely that you will too.

Smoking is also strongly linked to rheumatoid arthritis, which affects as many as three times the number of smokers as non-smokers. It’s possible that smoking is one of the factors that helps trigger the abnormal autoimmune response.


Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Joint-related symptoms

The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and warmth. Often the joints are especially stiff first thing in the morning.


Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the joints in the fingers, wrists, knees, elbows and toes. However, it may also affect joints in the ankles, hips, neck, shoulders and other parts of the body.


Usually the smaller joints, like those in the fingers, are affected first. As the disease progresses, symptoms may spread to larger joints.


A distinguishing characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis is that the swelling and pain tend to come and go, rather than being continuous. It’s common for sufferers to have extended periods with almost no symptoms, followed by “flare ups”, which may last for weeks or months at a time.


Once joint tissue and bone have been damaged, the damage itself may contribute to pain and other symptoms that are more continuous. It may also impair mobility.


Other symptoms

The swelling caused by rheumatoid arthritis sometimes causes symptoms that aren’t centred on the joints, including flu-like symptoms, fatigue, muscle pain and loss of appetite. It may also cause nodules under the skin, especially on the elbows.


More rarely, rheumatoid arthritis may affect the lungs or the heart, potentially causing shortness of breath and chest pain. It may also affect the eyes, making the eyes dry, red and sore.


How rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed

There’s no single diagnostic test for rheumatoid arthritis, so it can be tricky to diagnose in its early stages. Primarily, a physician will check for joint pain, swelling and redness, as well as checking muscle strength and reflexes.


Certain blood tests may help confirm an initial diagnosis. For example, those with rheumatoid arthritis generally have a higher than average erythrocyte sedimentation rate (also known as ESR or sed rate), indicating an inflammatory process. Blood tests may also be used to check for specific antibodies that are commonly found in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.


After diagnosis, X-rays may be used to monitor damage to the joints over time.


Treating rheumatoid arthritis

Currently there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the disease can be managed through various treatments and lifestyle changes. Especially early on, aggressive treatment may slow down or even stop the progression of the disease.


Medication for rheumatoid arthritis

Most medications for rheumatoid arthritis are focused on reducing inflammation and pain. They include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); note that the stronger NSAIDs include potential side effects such as heart, liver and kidney damage, stomach irritation and tinnitus (persistent ringing in your ears)
  • disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are designed to slow the progression of the disease – common examples are methotrexate (Trexall), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), leflunomide (Arava) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine); possible side effects include liver damage, lung infections and bone marrow suppression
  • cortisone/steroids; possible side effects include cataracts, thinning of bones and skin, diabetes and weight gain
  • TNF-alpha inhibitors such as etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), golimumab (Simponi) and certolizumab (Cimzia); possible side effects are nausea, diarrhea, hair loss and increased susceptibility to infection.


In addition, immunosuppressants may be used in an attempt to prevent or at least dampen the immune system response that causes rheumatoid arthritis. Some examples are azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan) and cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Gengraf). Unfortunately, these medications may increase your risk of infection.


Alternative medication and therapies

Widely used treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include acupuncture, bee venom acupuncture, a range of herbal remedies, dietary omega-3 fatty acids and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, which focuses specifically on reducing pain.


Buchu is an especially useful herb for treating the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis because it isn’t associated with any harmful side effects. In the form of a gel, it can be applied topically to cool and soothe hot, red, sore joints. It can also be taken in capsule form to help reduce systemic swelling and joint pain.


Specific fatty acids found in fish oil and in certain plant oils, including evening primrose, borage and blackcurrant, have been found to help reduce the pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Note that if you consider taking one of these oils, it’s important to check with a doctor that it won’t interfere with other medication you’re taking. Some of the oils may also contribute to liver damage if overused.


Finally, applying cold can help reduce swelling and numb pain. You can try a cold compress or submerge a hot, painful joint in cold water for temporary relief.



A physical or occupational therapist may show you how best to protect your joints and give you exercises for keeping the joints flexible. This type of therapist may also have helpful suggestions on assistive devices you can use to manage daily tasks with less pain and without putting stress on affected joints.



Surgery can’t slow down or stop rheumatoid arthritis, but it may be used to repair joints that have been damaged – to help restore mobility and to reduce pain. Damaged joints may be replaced or fused.


Rheumatoid arthritis resources in South Africa

Some helpful South African resources if you or a family member suffers from rheumatoid arthritis are:


Our products for treating Rheumatoid arthritis inflammation


Buchulife joint health capsules
Joint Health Capsules
Buchulife first aid gel
First Aid Gel